Legacy of land use in Southern Appalachian forests: effects on terrestrial salamander abundance along edges and within abandoned logging roads

Document Type


Publication Date

January 2007

Publication Title

Conservation Biology


Roads may be one of the most common disturbances in otherwise continuous forested habitat in the southern Appalachian Mountains. Despite their obvious presence on the landscape, there is limited data on the ecological effects along a road edge or the size of the “road-effect zone.” We sampled salamanders at current and abandoned road sites within the Nantahala National Forest, North Carolina (U.S.A.) to determine the road-effect zone for an assemblage of woodland salamanders. Salamander abundance near the road was reduced significantly, and salamanders along the edges were predominantly large individuals. These results indicate that the road-effect zone for these salamanders extended 35 m on either side of the relatively narrow, low-use forest roads along which we sampled. Furthermore, salamander abundance was significantly lower on old, abandoned logging roads compared with the adjacent upslope sites. These results indicate that forest roads and abandoned logging roads have negative effects on forest-dependent species such as plethodontid salamanders. Our results may apply to other protected forests in the southern Appalachians and may exemplify a problem created by current and past land use activities in all forested regions, especially those related to road building for natural-resource extraction. Our results show that the effect of roads reached well beyond their boundary and that abandonment or the decommissioning of roads did not reverse detrimental ecological effects; rather, our results indicate that management decisions have significant repercussions for generations to come. Furthermore, the quantity of suitable forested habitat in the protected areas we studied was significantly reduced: between 28.6% and 36.9% of the area was affected by roads. Management and policy decisions must use current and historical data on land use to understand cumulative impacts on forest-dependent species and to fully protect biodiversity on national lands. Note: Link is to the article in a subscription database available to users affiliated with Butler University. Appropriate login information will be required for access. Users not affiliated with Butler University should contact their local librarian for assistance in locating a copy of this article.